Opponents of FC Barcelona, here is your New Year’s Resolution
Barcelona have shuffled their pack in 2010, starting to prefer to Messi to play centrally rather than in the inside right role. Not formed in the archetypal central forward role, his pee-wee frame would perhaps lead some central defenders preferring to battle against the Lilliputian Argentinian.
Defenders may not be straining their Achilles whilst leaping against a monolithic striker but they have to deal with a completely different threat and recently played teams are yet sufficiently dampen Barcelona’s attacking prowess.
Real Madrid and Espanyol offered us a clear illustration on how not to defend against Barcelona with Messi as the centrepiece, both surrendering five goals in the process of defeat.
There are clear similarities between the way José Mourinho and the delightfully named Mauricio Pochettino organised their defence; they defended high up the pitch and looked to narrow the spaces in front of their defence.
Let’s not prevaricate here, such a defensive strategy does not work when Messi plays as a ‘false 9’. He makes the role his own as he potters about the pitch, dropping to such depth that he sometimes looks to pick the ball up from defence.
So what does this mean for central defenders? Well, it means they are often left with nothing to do, left standing around kicking their heels. I would proposition here that instead of enjoying the fact that neither of them have anybody to directly mark that the centre-backs actually feel extremely uncomfortable at the thought of this – it means that they have to become fully aware of their movement and the space around them.
Messi dropping deep gives the nimblest Argentinean apart from this scantily clad one [NSFW] the opportunity to turn and pass into the acres of space behind the defence, which is where Pedro and David Villa will often be found. The centre-backs do not help themselves here as they often find themselves following Messi’s movement deep, creating a poor defensive line that is easier to penetrate with a piercing through-ball.
Espanyol decided to allow one of their centre-backs, Juan Forlin, follow Messi, even when he went to go pick up the ball from the defence. This left a situation where the other centre-back was left isolate without help from his full-backs, as they were concentrating on the movements of Villa and Pedro.
Against Real Madrid, Ángel di María was instructed to follow Pedro’s movement, possibly to aid Marcelo who is not the best defensively. This allowed Dani Alves to maraud up and down the right wing as the space was available to do so. This turned the conventional back-four into a back-five which allowed Barcelona to dominate the middle of the park. Barcelona were therefore able to start moves in midfield comfortably and completely dominate the match. This was all down to Mourinho worrying about Pedro scurrying behind their defence.
Hércules CF had great success in frustrating Barcelona by dropping deep and restricting the space behind them and came out winners in their game early in the season. Levante UD went to the Camp Nou on the 2nd of January and set-up in a similar way and largely frustrated Barcelona but somewhat unluckily left with nothing. So here’s a New Year’s resolution for all sides pipped against the Catalonian giants – play deep and make Barcelona play in front of you, with a bit of luck, you may come away with something.